Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Evolution Trumps Creationism

Written by johnleemk on 11:27:05 pm Jan 16, 2007.
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A discussion thread on the forums has been opened for this topic.

I was struck by a recent column in the Sun concerning the teaching of evolution in schools. I found it rather worrying that the author didn't seem very informed about the scientific differences between evolutionism and creationism, and fell prey in particular to some common fallacies.

Now, I personally believe in a creator. (If you attentively read my earlier pieces, Differentiating Roman Catholicism and Separating personal and public life you would actually know that I have quite specific beliefs concerning religion.) However, I also believe that the creator gave us the ability to reason for, well, a reason.

My belief in a creator stems from my own faith. It cannot be logically proven; I cannot present scientific evidence for his existence. As such, I do not believe in teaching creationism as a part of any scientific subject. As critics of global warming love to point out, science is about facts, not opinions. You're either right or wrong. There can't be a wishy-washy "Well, you know, the consensus is X so it has to be right" or "All points of view must be respected". If something is bullshit, it's bullshit, no matter how many people support it or how much we prize freedom of expression.

With that in mind, let's begin to address the points made by the writer one by one.

I was intrigued by a recent protest against a Malaysian Science textbook. Apparently some zealous authors concluded that the world was created by God. Some parents took offence on the ground that the conclusion was unsupported by scientific facts. Amazingly, the Education Ministry agreed.
Amazingly? So are you suggesting that in reality, God's existence is supported by scientific facts? I would love to see your evidence for that. If there are no facts supporting a particular hypothesis, that hypothesis remains a hypothesis, and nothing more. It should never be stated as a theory, let alone a fact. (I am speaking, of course, in terms you might recall from Form 1 science. "Theory" in everyday language is synonymous with "hypothesis", but in the scientific method, these two terms have different meanings. A theory is a hypothesis that has been supported by some evidence, but is not yet conclusively proven.)

But if you think an amoeba could somehow become a sperm whale, clearly you have more faith than me who simply believes in God. Scientists may have observed "micro-evolution" within a species but "macro-evolution" of the type that transforms Shrek into Prince Charming remains as much a grope in the dark as high-flung theology taught in Latin.

No more a grope in the dark than believing in a supercontinent that later broke into pieces, or believing in a big bang. Unless you would like to deny continental drift or the big bang on the grounds that nobody has observed them, I don't think the "It hasn't been observed" argument is enough to disprove macroevolution.

Indeed, if you accept microevolution, by default, you accept macroevolution as well. If you don't believe in macroevolution, the onus is on you to prove why this is so. You see, in microevolution, variation occurs within a species. You might have, for example, a shih-tzu and an Alsatian - two different breeds of dog, but within the same species. Obviously they had a common ancestor which they evolved from. Nobody can seriously contest this (with the current evidence we have) without exposing himself as a quack scientist.

However, assuming the small changes that create new breeds continue, would these small mutations not eventually add up to a huge difference from the original species? It's a logical and linear extrapolation. It's like adding up the minute quantities we have in calculus - individually, they are for all intents and purposes equivalent to zero, but cumulatively, they add up to a real number. Thus, if you accept microevolution but not macroevolution, the onus is on you to show why it is impossible for a series of small mutations to add up to one giant change that leads to the creation of a whole new species.

Fact is, evolution and creation are theories regarding the origin of man.

There are scientific facts, and then there are theories. Facts can be verified. Theories are conclusions drawn from facts. However, the same set of facts can lead different scientists to make different conclusions.
Creation is not a theory. It is an unproven hypothesis, with not a single shred of evidence in its favour. Creationists can point to improbable incidents, but these do not in of themselves prove that there was a creator. It is utterly improbable that I will win the lottery, yet assuming I buy enough tickets and play for long enough, I will eventually win. The same could be said for evolution.

At best, the improbabilities can only disprove evolution. They cannot serve as direct evidence of a creator. All they can signify is that we need a new theory that better explains the facts.

So, if Science textbooks are only to be filled with facts, we must remove both the theories of evolution and creation.
Huh? Creation has no basis in factual evidence, but evolution does. There are more than enough instances of microevolution to make anyone denying it look like he belongs in a mental asylum. And, as noted above, this is enough to provide some basis for the theory of macroevolution as well. Given that macroevolution explains the existing evidence quite well (for instance, the close genetic resemblance between different species of apes), I'd say it qualifies as something that should be taught.

Also, if we were to strip out all theories from science textbooks, we would not be able to teach, say, string theory at higher levels of physics. There are a variety of theories with clear grounding in facts. There is no reason to excise them from textbooks.

The better idea would be to expose our children to all major theories currently available. Tell them about scientists who believe we are created by God, and tell them also about scientists who believe we were once primates. Discuss both theories. Let them draw their own conclusions in due time.
A good idea - but it must be emphasised that scientists who believe in a creator cannot prove their beliefs with scientific reasoning. Indeed, creationism is an excellent example of a contradiction of the basic scientific axiom that a theory must be falsifiable - i.e., it can be disproven. How are you going to disprove God's existence, or that was a creator? You can always come up with some loophole to claim that God exists and provide a theory that fits all the facts, even if the theory doesn't actually have much basis in fact. For instance, some people claim that God intentionally created the evidence of evolution, but that in reality he created the earth in six days. How, then, could you disprove the creationist hypothesis?

It is disturbing to note that parents deemed it necessary to lobby for statements to be removed from textbooks. That sounds very much like censorship. Sure, the authors may not be justified to make the dogmatic conclusion which they did. They are nevertheless entitled to their views.
Dude. Views != scientific fact. Save the opinions and arguments for subjects where they matter, like moral education. (That would be an excellent place to teach creationism, actually.) If you are going to teach something as fact, it must be a fact. It cannot be a view or opinion. Stating that there is a creator as if it is fact is not warranted for a science textbook. It's as simple as that. This crap about censorship is utter nonsense.

The parents could simply explain to their children that notwithstanding the dogma of the Science textbook, the conclusion is less certain than they are led to believe. In this way, children can be taught from young not to believe everything they read and hear, and you bet they are going to read and hear a lot of nonsense. We can encourage inquisitive minds who dare to challenge the printed word - a very helpful tool in an era when the licence to print words needs to be annually renewed.
So now we are going to print dubious opinions as fact in textbooks so we can teach children how to distinguish fact from opinion? I find it really hard to respect this view. The book itself should make it clear that the debate on evolution vs creation is not settled, instead of coming down decisively on either side. At the same time, it must lend greater credence to the best theory available at the moment, which happens to be evolution. Creationism, as I said, cannot even be considered a real theory since it is impossible to disprove.

If the textbook was properly deliberated upon, we must assume that the Education Ministry officials have encountered that infamous statement of divine attribution, and must have somehow deemed it suitable for release. Let them now show their intellectual vigour by defending the inclusion of that statement instead of backing down. Take the cue from the Japanese Education Ministry which refused to back down on their version of World War II. The way it was portrayed was precisely the way they intended it to be portrayed - no more and no less.
I was honestly shocked to read this. For a moment I thought I was reading satire. Certainly, the first sentence reads as sarcasm. Honestly, whatever happened to an honest mistake? Must we be so stubborn in denying our own errors? Is it not enough for the MoE to say "Oh, yes, sorry we made a mistake - we'll fix it" - must they deny that they made a mistake just to satisfy the taste for "intellectual vigour" of an armchair critic? And honestly, if you're going to cite that revisionist whitewashing nonsense of the Japanese as an example to be followed, I must tell you, sir, that you have lost all touch with reality. The stubbornness of the Japanese in denying their wartime atrocities is the very last thing we want.

Freedom of expression is such a precious value, especially when one is in the minority. Unfortunately, we all tend to favour freedom only when it works to our benefit. When the freedom is used to express viewpoints which we frown upon, we find that freedom to be inconvenient, unwarranted and a general pain in the posterior.
How true. It's just too bad that freedom of expression should not trump scientific fact. If we want to teach facts, not opinions, in our science classes, we cannot permit opinions to seep in disguised as fact. We cannot cite freedom of expression as a reason to permit opinions or outright inaccuracies to prevail as fact.

To prove my point, did you realise that Darwin (yes, the same fellow) also concluded that man was profoundly superior to women in every way?

This was apparently part of the natural selection with regard to sex. So, can we remove creator God and insert superior Man in God's stead? If Darwin's theory is deemed founded on facts, then surely we must accept this so-called fact as well.
Thank you for proving that you truly have lost all grip on reality. The theory of evolution as it stands today is not the same theory of evolution that stood in Darwin's time. Many of Darwin's original ideas have been disproven by scientific inquiry, and this is as it should be. This does not mean that we must reject his theory in its entirety - we only reject those ideas of his which are inconsistent with the facts.

This is an ad hominem argument, plain and simple. The author has now resorted to attacking the proponent of evolution for his archaic and inaccurate views while not addressing the pith and substance of his main theory. Perhaps the author would do well to revisit my piece on common debatring errors.

This rebuttal has been meant to speak up for the scientific facts concerning evolution and creationism, and for good debating practices. It is not meant to advocate a particular view about the question of our origins. Although I believe, as someone who has made a brief study of scientific views on the subject, that there is a good basis for evolution in scientific fact, I simply believe that there is a creator. My views are actually more complex, but we can discuss those another time. For now, let's just bear in mind that: 1. Evolution is the only credible scientific theory on the subject of our origins; 2. Resorting to the whitewashing of Japanese atrocities and ad hominem attacks on evolutionists are never good ways to win an argument.

A discussion thread on the forums has been opened for this topic.


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